Two verticals of Cheval Blanc and Yquem in Las Vegas, one at Robuchonjeudi, 8 novembre 2007

After the incredible verticals of Cheval Blanc and Yquem in Los Angeles, I was supposed to fly back to Paris to attend a tasting by Jaboulet followed by a dinner by restaurant Pic where I would have met Anne-Sophie Pic whom I appreciate fondly. A friend who lives in Las Vegas and who attended the verticals in L.A. told me : “you should come to Las Vegas as we will make a fabulous dinner by Joël Robuchon”. I said no, as I had promised to go to Valence, but the occasions to make mad things in life are not so frequent. I asked for the advise of my wife who was in Paris, and she said : “do it”. The use of internet to change flights, book flights, and reserve hotel is a great help.

I knew Las Vegas and its excess, but reality is always above what is kept in mind. To check in hotel Bellagio, I am just behind some 300 people waiting for the same purpose. To reach my room needs a serious training for Marathon.

My room is quite comfortable. My friend calls me and says : be ready for 6 pm. He explains just a little and when I see his car, who is in the car ? Pierre Lurton president of Cheval Blanc and Yquem. When I had met Pierre the day after the verticals, by a true hazard, I had told him that I would go to Valence and not to Las Vegas, so the surprise was for both of us. We leave the town and arrive in an industrial quarter and we park along a nice industrial building. By the entrance in big letters, “welcome to Pierre Lurton”. We are welcomed by Larry Ruvo, « senior managing director » of « Southern Wine Spirits of Nevada », a dynamic sexagenarian who is in a meeting room with a particularly pretty woman, tasting wines while eating a plate of mushrooms. Larry talks with abundance about a project of a research Center for Parkinson and Alzheimer diseases which will be built by the architect who made the Guggenheim museum in Bilbao, Frank Gehry. Someone brings for us champagne Perrier Jouët Belle Epoque. Larry thanks for long minutes Pierre, as Bernard Arnault supports the project. Larry, as I understand, has helped to raise funds through a gigantic dinner with an auction which brought 24 million dollars. A house for four dogs designed by Frank Gehry was sold for 350,000 dollars. When it concerns charity, generosity is there. We enter a board room where 40 people will share a dinner. The menu is made by the chef attached to the company, who uses a kitchen which is larger than the one of Guy Savoy in Paris multiplied by three. In the room another message : « Southern Wine and Spirits welcomes Pierre Lurton ». In front of each seat there are six empty glasses. The menu is : Coriander seared Hamachi on a bed of pumpkin risotto / Roasted crispy skinned pheasant with a medley of chanterelles and truffle oil / grilled tenderloin of bison with baby Dutch potatoes and a Barolo emulsion / lavender poached Bartlett pears / Poppyseed-cinnamon ice and sautéed strawberries.

It was absolutely delicious and elegantly matched the wines. The level of such a cook is not far from one star, which is spectacular within a company.

Larry asks everyone to present himself. There are many customers of the company, sommeliers of great restaurants, owners of restaurants, wine shops and people involved in the Research Center project. I sit next to a man who is an example of the American dream. He came from China with 2 dollars in his pocket some 26 years ago, and owns now a group of 11 wine shops with $80 million sales. He asks me immediately how many cases of Cheval Blanc 2000 are in my cellar. Business is business. On my right it is a lawyer of the East Coast who abandoned his job to create a restaurant and a wine shop in Las Vegas.

Now, we are going to taste Château Cheval Blanc 2000 – 1998 – 1990 – 1989. I see immediately that the wines, opened for a longer time, served a little warmer than what we had in Los Angeles perform largely better. It is obvious for the smell and is confirmed in mouth. What appears clearly is that the 1998 is the best and that the 1989 is the weakest of the group. It must be said that at this level, a weaker wine is a great wine. The 2000 is a great wine of course, but the 1998 has something more which creates a real difference. The 1990 offers some chocolate and truffles and has a very airy final. The 1989 is dryer, woody, with green pepper. The four wines are more generous than what appeared in Los Angeles. I rank so : 1998 – 1990 – 2000 – 1989. But I observe something very curious. The 2000 climbs to the summit with an incredible speed. For which reason does this wine improves so quickly, I am unable to say. But it is clear that now, before we leave the flight of red wines, the 2000 tends to look like its reputation.

The two Yquem which are served : Yquem 2001 – 1988 have a higher temperature and are opened earlier than by the tasting of Los Angeles. The 2001 is still a baby but the delicious dessert with pears and lavender (a very elegant combination) helps a lot to make it shine. It is obvious that this wine should no more be consumed for many years. The divine surprise comes from the 1988 which if full of glory as it was never in L.A. As it is now, it comes back to the position that it had before for me, as the first in the trilogy 88 – 89 – 90.

When we were in the office of Larry Ruvo, he had said to Pierre : you “must” go to the show in the MGM hotel. So Larry announced to all his guests, that our small group would leave the table and visit the warehouse and go to the show “KA”. The warehouse is highly impressive. Every night, 40,000 cases of wines, beers, spirits and water come out of the place, so we visited surrounded by an incredible number of fork lifts.

My friend drives us with an incredible speed to be in time at the theatre. What amazes me in the American efficiency is that in front of the entrance, a member of the staff of Larry’s company was waiting for us, tickets in hand. Amazing. Amazing as the show, with a gigantism that exists only in Las Vegas. After the show, we go and say hello to the staff of the restaurant Joël Robuchon where we will have dinner tomorrow. The sommelier offers us a champagne Bruno Paillard NV which has a structure that I did not imagine at this level, as it is the first time that I drink one. My friend drives me to the Bellagio, at a different door than the one I had used. It took me half an hour to find my room.

After a quiet day I arrive at 7 pm in the restaurant Joël Robuchon in MGM hotel. The decoration is extremely elegant, showing a taste for a delicate luxury. We are a group of around 12 to 14 people, spread around three tables, with Pierre Lurton being the guest of honour. I recognise some people whom I know. Bipin Desai attends the dinner too. Some great buyers of wines are there for what is named : “tasting of Chateau Cheval Blanc and Chateau d’Yquem, dinner on November 8, imagined by Joël Robuchon”.

The menu is written in French : L’avocat – Dans une infusion juste prise aux herbes et une caillebotte à l’huile d’olive / Les crustacés – La langoustine truffée à l’étuvée de chou vert, le homard rôti à la citronnelle avec une semoule végétale, l’oursin accompagné d’une purée de pomme de terre au café / Le Matsukaté – Aux capucines en ravioli, escorté d’un bouillon parfumé au gingembre / Le thon blanc – Confit à l’huile pimentée et relevé d’une nage d’endives aux pistils de safran / Le veau de lait – En mille-feuille de tofu aux délices d’Alba sous une voilette parmesane / Le bœuf de Kobe – Grillé aux matsukatés, cristalline au poivre, cresson en tempura, raifort à la moutarde / La poire William – Glacée aux saveurs fruitées et confite à la crème de cassis / Le Victoria – Ananas parfumé au praliné- noisette givré de thé au jasmin.

I was mainly interested by the discovery of the restaurant, but the wines are worth the trip. It must be said that I was addict to the talent of Joël, as I went regularly every three months to his restaurant, with an automatically revolving reservation. And when Joël retired from his activity, I have never visited his Atelier. For me, God had retired. So I was very curious to check if my God was operative again at the same level of perfection. By the standing aperitif, with a champagne Dom Pérignon 1999, the small canapés convinced me that the unique tastes that Joël is able to create were back. I am not a great fan of the DP 1999 which I find less emotional than other years.

We go to our tables and the avocado is sublime. The langoustine is marvellous, and the Asiatic tendencies which appear in the cook of Joël are nicely integrated in what I call a “cuisine bourgeoise”, the traditional historical nice French cuisine. The champagne Dom Pérignon 1996 is largely more seductive, and gives emotions that the 1999 does not give. I find the urchin a little too shy, and the Maine lobster is rather conventional.

The Matsutake is delicious and works very well with Petit Cheval 2001. If this wine were alone for the dinner, we would find it lovely with its expressive nose and its nice taste even if a little dry. But the Cheval Blanc 2001 is too big for it. The Cheval Blanc 2001 is really a great wine, and promises a very bright future. I am not extremely convinced by the white tuna, but the veal is shining, and helps the Cheval Blanc 1989 and the Cheval Blanc 1990 to express all their qualities. As I had seen already two times that the 1990 is highly above the 1989, I found today that the match is more open. Today, I would put the two wines at the same level, the 1990 being elegant and charming and the 1989 being more powerful and massive.

The Kobe beef is extraordinary for my taste. It goes with two stars, the Cheval Blanc 1998 and the Cheval Blanc 2000. Do we live today a revolution? The 1989 appeared equal to the 1990 and now the 2000 seems to play a better game than the wonderful 1998. What happens? Despite the nice performances of tonight I continue to think that 1990 is above 1989 and that 1998 is above 2000. The 1998 is in the historical line of Cheval Blanc, exactly as Petrus 1998 is more in the historical line than the legendary Petrus 2000.

The desserts of Joël Robuchon are very inventive to match the Yquem. As usual, every component made with red or black fruits do not cope with Yquem. The Yquem 1996 is rather limited for my taste. The Yquem 1988 confirms its come back at the top of its form, generous, glorious, and sunny. The Yquem 2001 has still its great potential, but my love at first sight seems to have been eroded after three tries in one week.

The Yquem which comes now in magnum is an Yquem for aficionados, as it requires a specific knowledge to enjoy it as it should. The Yquem 1962 has tea and apricot. It is complex, enigmatic. It is a wine which surprises by every sip. In a comparative tasting, it would probably not get nice notes has it has lost a part of its sweetness. And the suggestions of tea make it a little bitter. But the incredible freshness makes it a tantalising Yquem for the one who knows how to “read” it. One needs patience and serenity to appreciate this enigmatic and puzzling expression. I have adored. The 1988 is in a phase of joy and expansion. The 1962 is esoteric and enigmatic. This is true happiness.

While I was making my report in French the next day, I was eating the delicious cake given by the restaurant, which recreates a tradition which existed when I used to come to the Parisian restaurant. When we went out of the restaurant, my friends asked me how I judged the level of the restaurant, and I said that I have found tastes that Joël is the only one in the world to make with such exactitude. The place deserves without any problem three stars in the Michelin guide. But I find that the distance which existed between Joël and the others is not as big as before. He is among the greatest, but many chefs have improved since he was at the top of his glory. Has he changed, or is it me who has changed, as time has passed, I cannot say. In any case, it is one of the greatest restaurants in the world, and it is worth the trip.

I have discovered this place with wonderful Cheval Blanc and Yquem. What would I need more ?

I spent a day more in Las Vegas, and I invited my friend of Las Vegas and another person for a dinner at restaurant Picasso in hotel Bellagio. We had a table on the terrace in front of the pond on which hundreds of jets of water played according to the surrounding music. In the room inside, tens of paintings of Picasso create a unique decoration. The chef, Julian Serrano made a wonderful menu : filet de flétan, sauce safran et mousseline de chou-fleur / salade tiède de caille, salade frisée à la truffe et cœur d’artichaut / pigeon rôti, asperges vertes, risotto de riz sauvage et pignons de pin / mignon d’agneau, ragout de flageolets au jus / assortiments de fromages, saint-marcellin, époisses, camembert, fleur de maquis, manchego, cabrales / symphonie de desserts Las Vegas.

On that, we drank wines of the restaurant and wines brought by my friend. A champagne Laurent Perrier rosé NV works wonderfully with Oscietra caviar. Then, a Puligny-Montrachet 1er cru le Cailleret, domaine de Montille 2004 is pleasant, rich and with a great length. We drink three red wines blind, and I find rather well the region, but makes a mistake of 20 years on the vintages. The Château Grand Puy Lacoste 1962, the Château Croizet-Bages 1961 and the Château La Tour Figeac 1961 are very nice. I am very impressed by the accomplished and velvety taste of the La Tour Figeac, and this Croizet-Bages is the best that I have ever drunk. The 1962 is a little more strict than the two 1961. With the desserts, we drink a Pedro Ximenez Emilio Lustau 1961 very comfortable and with no surprise.

Through the window inside the room we could see a table with two men and four women who represent a certain category of women who let the men with dropped jaws when they cross the room. The body perfectly sculptured by a permanent care and the use of efficient silicones, sun tanned with the precision of a boiled egg, the clothes too tight which every man hopes will explode, the heavy smile which indicates the height of the midnight gift. My friends were stuck to the vision of these beauties, whose spontaneousness in their emotions are tariffed.  This was the last exuberant image of a stay in the most excessive city of the world, which is highly sympathetic. The two verticals of Cheval Blanc and Yquem that I have added to my trip to California were worth the trip.